I recall on Friday 27 January 2012 I was standing with thousands of Senegalese citizens as well as fellow civil society activists from across West Africa at the l’Obelisque in the heart of Dakar awaiting the announcement of the Constitutional Council on the candidature of President Abdoulaye Wade.
At the square were Senegalese opposition leaders including Macky Sall and civil society leaders such as Alioune Tine of Raddho and activists such as Y’en a Marre, determined to protest if the Constitutional Council validated President Abdoulaye Wade to stand for what would have been his bid for a third term contrary to the Constitution of Senegal.
At that time Macky Sall with his fellow opposition leaders and Senegalese people in general held that Wade’s tenure as president should end in 2012 marking the end of his second term. But Wade had claimed that he was entitled to stand for elections again in 2012 because his tenure started afresh following a referendum in 2001 thus his first term should not count. Many believed President Wade was only seeking a third term so that if he won, he would make his son Karim Wade vice president thereby paving the way for Karim to succeed him as president.
Under the banner of the M23 Movement initiated by an array of Senegalese political parties, CSOs and activists in June 2011, a massive crowd converged on the l’Obelisque where Friday prayers were even conducted. The deputy mayor of Dakar at the time had even mobilised mobile toilets fearing that the protests could last for a long time. The then Interior minister Ousmane Ngum also had to abandon his initial order to ban protests. The determination and commitment of the protesters led by people like Macky Sall was just too strong to ignore!
But at the end of day, the Constitutional Council endorsed the candidacy of Wade and rejected scores of other candidates including Youssou N’dour. All sorts of allegations were levied against the judges of the Constitutional Council for certifying Wade to stand in the election. All appeals to the council were rejected. In response to the protests which erupted, security forces deployed immense force and violence leading to the deaths of scores of demonstrators. At the time, Macky Sall and fellow opposition leaders as well as civil society activists had accused Wade of committing a constitutional coup.
However, neither Macky nor any opposition leader triggered any process before the National Assembly to seek the postponement of the election. Rather they prepared themselves to contest against Wade and eventually secured victory when Macky Sall was elected in March 2012. Macky assumed the mantle of leadership with a huge promise and immense hope that henceforth democracy has been resurrected in Senegal after it was nearly killed by Wade, who was accused of treachery, calumny and kleptocracy.
Fast forward to 2023, in July, when Macky finally declared that he was not going to stand for a third term. This came after tens of Senegalese were massacred by his security forces while hundreds more are languishing in jails across the country protesting his ambiguous position on the matter. It was Wade who first created much ambiguity about his third term bid since the 2001 referendum. But he never backed down from his position despite the huge human cost. In the end he stood in the 2012 election and lost to Macky Sall.
For Macky, he could not take the heat following massive and unending demonstrations against his third term bid also leading to scores of deaths, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of opponents, closure of media houses, and banning of political parties. While his announcement not to seek re-election became a great relief, it did not live long to see him betray his word as he attempted another unconstitutional route to maintain himself in power. This act came on February 3 when he announced the postponement of the presidential elections only due in three weeks.
Today, thanks to first Abdoulaye Wade, and now Macky Sall, the innocence, future and vibrancy of Senegal and its democracy are dampened. Not only were both presidents and their regimes fantastically corrupt, but more insidiously they have cultivated an insidious culture of political prostitution and violence that lays bare the fragility of this once highly admired society as the beacon of democracy in a whole continent. Henceforth, it is safe to say that the unity and stability of Senegal have been put in the balance given the heightened antagonism and mistrust among its political leaders across the board.
At the end of the day, history will remember Abdoulaye Wade as a president who forced himself onto institutions like the Constitutional Council just to see him put in the ballot in 2012, illegally and illegitimately. Similarly, Macky Sall shall be remembered as the leader who manipulated judicial, legislative, and executive institutions just to prolong his grip on power, illegally and illegitimately. Between the two of them, they have perfected the weaponisation of laws and institutions just to entrench their hold on power. As it was done in 2012 so it came back to repeat in 2024!
Someone had said no one is useless, for at least he or she can be used as a bad example. Indeed, if current and future presidents in Africa also manipulate institutions to entrench themselves, we would say they are using the Wade/Sall template. Where Cote d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara triggered a sham referendum in 2016 to change the constitution to give himself a third term and The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh also rejected election results in 2016, both Wade and Sall did neither yet succeeded in having their names on the ballot and even increase their tenure in the case of Macky Sall. This is the unfortunate legacy of these presidents for which they will be remembered today and in future.
The Boraba-born Kembujeh resident activist is available on Twitter: @jobartehmadi LinkedIn: Madi Jobarteh.